The lineup for the Saturday session at British Summer Time all but promises to be a nostalgic return to eras past. A journey through songs some of us sang into hairbrushes, and others danced to in flared corduroy.
Take That @ BST Hyde Park 2023
The fact that the day coincides with London’s annual Pride parade couldn’t be more serendipitous. Around the park the crowd is a colourful and joyous mix of generations – there are the 20-somethings delighted for The Script, 30-somethings rejoicing the original Sugababes lineup, and the 60-somethings counting all the former members of Take That. It also feels particularly busy, and it’s no surprise that the festival has completely sold out for the day – about 65,000 people are in attendance, to be exact.
The crowd cheers when all three original members of Sugababes – Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena, and Siobhán Donaghy – march into their positions on stage, choreographically of course. The trio, barely aged and donning their own 90s outfit (a trend that has also seemingly returned to the mainstream), bring with them a vibrant energy and style. Together they performed ten back-to-back tracks with only a few short intermissions to shyly promote their upcoming tour. But they certainly don’t shy away from all of their hit songs – Freak Like Me, Red Dress, Overload and, from the soundtrack of Love Actually, Too Lost In You, before concluding with Push The Button and About You Now. It’s a lovely, and sweetly humble performance.
Sugababes @ BST Hyde Park 2023
The Script is up next and their arrival is a moment that feels particularly sentimental. It was the band’s first festival show since the death of co-founder Mark Sheehan in April – a moment the band tributed through the song If You Could See Me Now late in their set. Early on the band, led by frontman Danny O’Donohue, gave the crowd plenty of opportunities to sing along to long-term favourites such as The Man Who Can’t Be Moved, Rain and Nothing – a warm welcome that didn’t’ go unnoticed – “we feel like we’ve made so many friends today, thank you”, said Danny, as they gratefully said goodbye.
Headliners Take That are next and the crowd is a little rowdy. A few tipples in the sunshine and hours of anticipation have made them excitedly anxious – it’s clear they won’t leave disappointed. When it’s obvious the time has come, the roar of their fans is deafening. These fans are legit, so much so that when Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald run to the centre of the stage there is no music – just an acapella version of their opening song The Flood sung almost exclusively by people before them. The stage is busy with back-up dancers running up and down some makeshift stairs, your eyes drawn to the many hundreds of things happening at once. It’s chaotic and wild, it’s Take That.
A few songs in and the band welcomes Britain’s Got Talent’s Calum Scott for their most recent release, a remake of Greatest Day, before moving into a piano-led rendition of the song, Dancing On My Own by Swedish pop star Robyn (made famous by Scott on BGT). The camera pans around Calum, the same way it might do if he were performing at Eurovision, and perhaps sometimes it feels more like we’re there rather than the centre of London. Douze points for escapism!
There were pop anthems old and new, and with each one a very literal visual display in accompaniment – Shine involves thousands of phone torches, A Million Love Songs sees love hearts fill the giant screens, and Relight My Fire triggers (you guessed it) a row of flamethrowers along the stage, and a sneaky entry by 60s pop icon Lulu. As one fan put it before the show: “Take That feels like it could be a parody, but it’s very real”.
There’s a short break to allow the trio (and the audience) time to catch their breath after such a high-energy first half. The pause opens the door for some very enjoyable, and very British, banter. As Mark Owen thanks the audience for coming to see them after “four very long years” he goes on to pick his favourite banners in the audience: ‘this song is older than us’ draws a few giggles, ‘I think of you when I shag my husband’ roaring laughter, and ‘today is my greatest day, I made it through cancer’ a long and emotional applause, which leads the group into a special song dedication – The Garden.
It’s moments like these that make you realise the thin line between band and audience. Throughout the show there’s a sharp sense of togetherness not often felt at gigs these days. At a time where mobile phones, Tik Tok and Instagram stories can truly ruin those unique and beautiful moments you can only experience live, the nostalgia that was deliberately threaded into the day via the line-up, also came through in the experience, with people choosing to sing their hearts out and put their phones away (for the most part) to just enjoy the moment. One might say, to simply Take That all in.
Review of Take That at BST Hyde Park on 1st July 2023 by Lilen Pautasso. Photography by Dave Hogan.